Project Management: Good, Fast, Cheap - which TWO do you want?

It's not difficult..

..so why do so many senior managers just not get it? In any major project, there is a strong relationship between quality of solution, speed of implementation, and total cost. Every project manager and project engineer of reasonable experience understands the relationship intuitively, even if they have never consciously thought it through. But many industries are plagued with managers who have never worked in the field and believe they can, by sheer force of will (read shouting, blaming and throwing tantrums) circumvent the natural order of things. They can also swim uphill and even walk on water - in their dreams.

good, fast, cheap - take any two
good, fast, cheap - take any two

Good, Fast, Cheap, the deal:

Let's say the manager hasn't lost the plot completely and still understands that quality is important. S/he wants a Good project. If s/he then insists on having the best and having it now, that's possible too - but at a price. The suppliers will have to mobilise more and better people to do the work. They will have to divert resources from other projects, reprioritising this job above all others. All possible, but someone has to pay. Guess who? On the other hand, the inevitable consequence of insisting on good and cheap is time slippage as the project gets queued behind the ones that are willing to pay the going rate.

Or, perhaps the manager reckons that a quick result is the most important criterion. If s/he then insists on best price, that's OK too, provided s/he'll be happy with a half-baked installation that simply won't work and will serve only to annoy and alienate all the end users.

No matter how you look at this, from the Good, Fast, Cheap triangle, you can never have all three. There is always a compromise. Ideally, Management would insist on high quality projects. They would set reasonable timescales, and would be in a position to do so, having carried out thorough strategic planning. And they would expect to pay a fair rate for the goods and services provided.

But they don't.

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Comments 25 comments

quicksand profile image

quicksand 5 years ago

Generally speaking It would not be wise to take into consideration cheap things as I believe that quality is important on the long run.

I have watched businesses running smoothly when the employees functioned as a team, often making the right desecions.

Cheers! :)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Yes. The problem comes when senior management try to force cost cutting but without the experience to understand the consequences. Usually when you try to push for good, fast and cheap you end up with none of them!


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 5 years ago from USA

Howdy PG - I go for all three, but I understand what you are saying in your excellent article. When you go for "cheap" you generally wind up with something that does not satisfy the need, is obsolete befre you get it, or is, like lots of stuff shipped in from China, adulterated or full of noxious poisonous stuff, such as the protein-like plastic with which they laced the pet food (and so forth and so forth...)

Gus :-)))


fetty profile image

fetty 5 years ago from South Jersey

When you present these arguments in the triangular form it is quite obvious that some aspect of the formula will have to give. It's almost as if 1/3 of the formula negates the other 2/3 rd's but always in a different way. eg.( Good and cheap would be different than Good and fast and fast and cheap sounds like it would kill,perhaps.) Excellent hub. You always make me think. Thank you.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Gus - It's always worth pushing for best price, but it's when you push too hard something else has to give.

fetty - this is s short one that I just wanted to get out of my system. Must have something to do with my current project!


Quilligrapher profile image

Quilligrapher 5 years ago from New York

After reading your KFC piece 4 weeks back, your title “Good, Fast, Cheap – which TWO do you want?” had me thinking this was about fast food chains. I was wrong. This was much more interesting. Bravo! Q.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Q - the relationship should be obvious but here in the Middle East I've found myself having to explain it all too often. The mentality here is to delay decisions then screw down on price, then start shouting blame when things fall apart! It's a lose-lose approach.


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

Hi PG being a bricklayer i'm always buying tools from time to time. The builder's merchant where i pick up supplies no longer stocks most good quality tools. A well made Aussie or American shovel costs about $50. A chineese one costs $15. If i want a good quality one i have to order it in. I do of course, but how long will it be before the quality manufacturers go bust? Thanks for a useful poser.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi attemptedhumour - I've seen quite a few quality companies go under because of end users trying to force down prices. It's a vicious circle.


william.fischer29 profile image

william.fischer29 5 years ago

Nice one.


McGilwriter profile image

McGilwriter 5 years ago from Florida

LOL, I enjoyed reading your hub because I live in that world. I get on projects, and we can only provide 2 of those 3! What do they want? Usually it's good and cheap.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

McGilwriter - in the Middle East, usually they start with Good and Fast, then start to screw the price down till the project breaks and they end up with none!


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 5 years ago from US

Nice one..I can understand what you are saying, Quality always come with a high price but in the end it is worth it. Maita


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

It also works out cheaper in the end than the salvage job after an expensive mistake!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

Very well said. And pithy too. I agree all the way. We can't have everything. I would start with "good" and go from there.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Yes, that's why I put 'good' at the apex of the triangle. A manager who isn't interested in quality first shouldn't be in business. Thanks for the visit.


Fay Paxton 5 years ago

Very good read. Start always with quality.

up/useful


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Yes, if you don't start with quality as the driving force, you'll never achieve it.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 5 years ago from Madrid

Nice and to the point take on the eternal Cost - Quality - Time To Market triangle.

"Usually when you try to push for good, fast and cheap you end up with none of them!" :-) Right! But then it depends on customers' expectations, too. The business world is so awfully bound towards Fast and Cheap that sometimes I think end users have come to expect a lower quality level in all goods and services, which makes the absence of real good quality not noticed or even not important to many, as long as they can have their goods or services fast and cheap :-/

Perhaps if customers cared, more companies trying to get away with the fast and cheap directive would be in trouble?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Elena - the forced acceptance of poor quality goods and services is all part of a general trend of dumbing down. Artificial 'competition' between equally bad but superficially different solutions is just another facet of the same. Thanks for the visit :)


C.J. Wright 5 years ago

Nice work. I refer to this conumdrum you have descrived as "trying to drive fast and save gas".


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi C.J. You can do that, but only downhill on a straight! Thanks for the read.


The Grumpy Goat 5 years ago

Atonishing! I've been advocating "Good/Cheap/Quick" since for ever.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

It's the Middle East disease ;)

Thanks for the visit!


Anecdote4all 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Good read. This is my mantra!

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